Hole in French Village Means One Thing: Treasure Hunters

Rennes-le-Château has dealt with this for decades
By Kate Seamons,  Newser Staff
Posted Jan 9, 2018 12:58 PM CST
Updated Jan 13, 2018 12:03 PM CST
Hole in French Village Means One Thing: Treasure Hunters
A sign for Rennes-le-Chateau.   (Getty Images)

As the story goes, in the small French village of Rennes-le-Château a priest named François-Bérenger Saunière managed to accumulate an unlikely sum of money, giving birth to a legend that he had found buried treasure. It was said that he himself buried what he didn't spend somewhere on the grounds of the Church of Saint Mary Magdalene or its graveyard. The Telegraph reports that since the priest's 1917 death, that line of thought has largely been dismissed as folly—but it hadn't stopped treasure-seekers from digging holes in the town, as occurred last week. The Guardian reports a hole was found under a church wall, in violation of a 1960s ban on digging without permission. The Telegraph reports that historians believe Saunière obtained his riches through nefarious means, like stealing donations.

He would have to have stolen a lot: Per Ancient Origins, Saunière's own ledger showed he had about 81 francs to his name (and a debt of 105 francs) in 1892; between then and his death, he reportedly recorded spending 660,000 francs, though he was paid just 900 francs annually. The Guardian reports hysteria over the supposed treasure peaked in the 1970s, when people came to the town armed with wall-busting explosives. Then came Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code, which features a character named after the priest. In 2004 the town's mayor told the Sun Herald authorities went so far as to exhume Saunière and reinter him "under a 3 tonne sarcophagus surrounded by five cubic meters of concrete" to safeguard his remains from treasure-seekers. (Elsewhere, while searching for a foundation, they found treasure instead.)

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